Monday, July 26, 2010

Faceless (Jess Franco, 1987)

The extreme lengths one will go through in order to attain the perfect complexion is examined in the ghastly Faceless (a.k.a. Les prédateurs de la nuit), a plastic surgery gone awry chiller from trash peddler extraordinaire Jess Franco (Bloody Moon, Eugénie de Sade, and hundreds of other works of sleazy goodness). Well, actually, I wouldn't go as so far to say that there is any sort of "examining" going on this film–after all, it's a Franco flick (tawdry thrills and lingering leg moments are the main order of business). But as far as watching backroom chainsaw dismemberment, unwanted face peeling, gigolos getting scissored in the neck, drill heads being changed prior to a head being drilled, and, my personal favourite, syringes wielded by sophisticated women of European extraction go, I'd say the film is resounding success. Oh, sure, Telly Savalas (NFL Players Association Awards Dinner) literally phones in his performance and the amount of flame coming off the guy playing the Dorothy-friendly fashion photographer will cause your inexpensive gaydar to explode into a million fabulous pieces. But what exactly is wrong with using a telephone and being aggressively flamboyant? I can't think of anything.

After a night of high end shopping, Dr. Flamand (Helmet Berger), his wife Ingrid (Christiane Jean) and his sister Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie) are confronted in a Paris parking garage by a dissatisfied patient. Unhappy with the results of her plastic surgery, the scarred woman throws a glass of acid in Ingrid's face. Mildly disfigured ("mildly" because I thought she still looked hot), Ingrid retreats from the world. Determined to bring his wife back to a state of acceptable attractiveness, Dr. Flamand and Nathalie begin to work on finding her a new face.

This search sees them abducting a fashion model named Barbara (Caroline Munro), a prostitute (Amélie Chevalier), and an actress (Florence Guérin). The model's disappearance (she was lured with sweet cocaine) causes her New York-based father (Telly Savalas) to hire a private detective (Christopher Mitchum) to do what the French police can't seem to do, and that is, find out what happened to Barbara.

Luckily for her, Dr. Flamand and Nathalie's deranged man-servant (Gérard Zalcberg) causes Barbara some facial distress during an off-the-cuff sexual assault.

As punishment for this act, the man-servant is forced to rub his face over the fishnet stocking-covered legs of Ingrid. Um, I don't really see how this is a punishment exactly. I mean, I must have missed something, because this looked like, from my cockeyed point-of-view, to be the best punishment ever.

Anyway, unsure of his face transplanting skills, Dr. Flamand employs the services of a former SS doctor (Anton Diffring) who did experiments at Dachau. The nonchalant manner in which Dr. Flamand and Nathalie go about finding the Nazi physician was kind of jarring. Killing women for their faces is one thing, but hiring a Nazi?

A nosy, wheelchair-bound patient (Stéphane Audran), who is recovering in the non-antiseptic dungeon wing of Dr. Flamand's clinic, starts to get suspicious of all the sinister activity going on downstairs, but she is quickly taken care of.

A virtual lingerie bonanza–in that it worships everything below the neck–the human face is effectively rendered redundant in this film. Whether it was Jess Franco's intention or not, but what I took away from the film is that the face, while important in some social situations, isn't necessary. The body, particularly when draped in pleasing fabrics, supplants the face when it comes to winning over the fickle crotches of others.

Every scene that features a woman enticing her intended victim seems to centre around the act of lifting up a piece of fabric to reveal the fleshy, unadorned area that separates the structural inner workings of their intricate lingerie. This combination of nylon and skin is so harmonious, that the person generating the images of this frothy display with his or her cerebral cortex will discover that their genitals have since become inflamed with a feverish form of desire.

However, it should be said, that in the case of Caroline Munro, she doesn't even seem to need lingerie.* Merely utilizing the tantalizing shape of her full-flavoured thighs, Caroline manages to manipulate a degenerate without the aid of flouncy undergarments.

Alluring, chic, and moderately evil all at once, Brigitte Lahaie is elegance personified as Nathalie, Dr. Flamand's unscrupulous assistant/kleptomaniac sister. Whether plunging syringes into the eyes of paranoid patients or driving scissors into the throats of untactful male prostitutes, Brigitte oozes sophistication and a steely brand of grace. I liked how she called the tactless boy-toy an "asshole" right before ventilating his neck area; the way it clashed with her overall European elan made my ovaries sing.

With her dark, piercing eyes–which looked extra nefarious when paired with red leather–Miss Lahaie cast an eerie spell over the proceedings. No fooling, nary a scene goes by without a shot of Brigitte staring intently at something.

When I first saw Florence Guérin dominating the dancefloor at the local discotheque, my eyes couldn't help but notice that her white fingerless gloves had less finger material than your average pair of fingerless gloves. After I grew bored with admiring her swanky handwear, it was Florence's black high-waisted leather mini-skirt's turn to dazzle my senses.

In terms of leather skirts seen throughout the history of pop culture, I'd definitely put Florence's up there with the one Papillon Soo Soo wears as a Da Nang prostitute in Full Metal Jacket and the many that Italian singer Sabrina Salerno struggled to keep on during the late 1980s. What I liked about it was that it gave her vagina and the wind swept confines of her delicious anus the coverage they so desperately need to go about their daily business, or in this case, nightly business, with a modicum of confidence. At the same time, the skirt managed to accentuate the length of her spectacular gams.

While Papillon's leather skirt seemed like it was glued on, and Sabrina's appeared to have a mind of its own, Florence's was lifted up on purpose. You see, Florence Guérin (who plays herself in this film) wants to impress Dr. Flamand and Nathalie (especially the latter, who clearly has dibs on her labia), and she does so by lounging seductively on their sofa. Pulling up her black high-waisted leather mini-skirt with a determined hiking motion, she lays out the exquisite fullness of her Gallic frame for all to see. Exposing the softness of her womanly body like it were a freshly cooked meal, Florence awaits the return of her horny hosts with a breathy mix of trepidation and insincere coquettishness.

A kinda remake of the classic Eyes Without a Face, this knock off/undertaking is similar in that it takes place in France and is about a doctor who desperately wants to procure a new face for a female loved one. Yet, being a Jess Franco film, the deep and thoughtful aspects of the Georges Franju version have been jettisoned and have found themselves replaced with discotheques, fur coats, garter belts, make out sessions with severed heads, cocaine, pimps named Rashid, and, of course, black high-waisted leather mini-skirts. Not a bad trade, if you ask me.

* Do leg restraints count as lingerie? The UCLA, the undergarment council for lingerie affairs, stated in its 1894 charter that: "Any fabric that is used to emphasize the natural beauty of the human body, whether intentional or not, shall fall comfortably under the lingerie umbrella." And, hey, I'm not one to argue with the UCLA, so I guess the answer to my question is a resounding yes. They do count. Yay!

Special thanks to the swanky empresses over at the Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire for causing my frazzled mind to become acutely aware of this botched face lift, high-waisted leather skirt-laden piece of trashy cinema.


  1. Lahaie is one of my all time favorite actresses; she's a former porn star but she's a good actress by anybody's standards. She also scares the living hell out of me; I've only seen two of her movies where she didn't affect me that way, and one of them was a straight out porno.

  2. This is such a fantastic tribute to this under-appreciated trash gem. You're so very right to acknowledge--nay, focus upon--the lingerie in this film. It begs the questions: Where did all the merry widows go? Whence the teddy? Sure, they're wildly impractical beneath today's jersey knit , deconstructed fashions, but I'll admit to missing them more than a little. Thanks for brightening up my morning with your wit and wisdom, friend :)

  3. Franco, Munro, Lahaie, Robert Mitchum's kid... How could this not be the greatest movie ever made?

  4. Excellent review. I need to find my copy and give it another spin.

  5. Wow, Telly Savalas must have had some bills to pay. :D NFL Players Association Awards Dinner? Awesome.

    My gaydar is always broken. Is there a more expensive model I should be buying?

    RIP, Maury Chaykin. :(

  6. @Nine-Fingered Menace: I'm looking forward to see more Brigitte Lahaie movies; I like her style. In fact, I have my eye on this flick of hers that apparently involves radioactive grapes.

    @Tenebrous Kate: I love the term "the merry widows." So much so, that I'm definitely gonna try to employ it somewhere in the near future.

    Anyway, thank you for acknowledging my right to obsess over the lingerie on this film.

    @Darius Whiteplume: That's Robert Mitchum's kid? Yikes, he's kinda lame in Faceless.

    You forgot Florence Guérin. ;)

    @Richard of DM: My DVD copy is a tad wonky.

    @Karim Amir: Yeah, Telly probably didn't work more than a day on this film (he's in it that briefly). And... Wait a minute, bills to pay? Are you implying that Faceless is crap? ;)

    While skimming over Telly's long list of credits, NFL Players Association Awards Dinner just jumped out at me.

    Isn't there some sort gaydar app for the iPhone?

    Indeed. :(

  7. Hello :)

    I randomly came across your blog because I image-searched "Desperately Seeking Susan". You have the most fantastic and familiar film tastes I've seen in a long while. As a female myself, it's rare to come across another female with such varied and eclectic likes. And the best part is that you actually write about them! It's all too common nowadays to see many images from these films in Tumblr accounts, but I don't know if many of those people have even watched the films.

    So yes, I applaud you. Do you have a Twitter or Mubi account? I'd love to be friends there.

    My final statement is a question: What film is the image on the left side of your header from? A man made me a video when I was in high school of various weird film clips to use while tripping out on acid. That film was one of them, but I have never been able to figure out the name of it. It's absolute fate that I came across your blog because now I can finally put this mystery to rest!


  8. First off, thanks for the compliment. :)

    Secondly, while I would love to be a woman, and I can see how you might think that I am one judging by some of the female-centric words I throw around, I'm actually a Canadian man.

    I don't have a Twitter, or a Mubi (whatever that is), but I do have a Tumblr. It's called Radioactive Lingerie. Warning: May contain the odd unclothed breast/crotch and Brooke Hogan.

    Let me see, the left side, eh? (see, Canadian) Oh, yeah, that's from "Dr. Caligari," a Stephen Sayadian (a.k.a. Rinse Dream) film from 1989.

  9. See, you have gone a sewn up a little hole in my tattered reality. I never refer to you as "he" or "she" but simply "Yum-Yum" - I'll continue, but it won't be the same. :-(


  10. Combining delightful expressions such as "Dorothy friendly" with skillful references to the highly esteemed UCLA, I must concede this is the best film piece I've read all week.

    I knew, for better or worse, that you are a guy from Canada.

  11. Darius Whiteplume: "sewn up a little hole in my tattered reality."

    That's so freaking beautiful.

    Jerry: Thanks, Jerry. :)

  12. Hello Yum-Yum! Not sure if you remember, but I used to have a journal on rotten tomatoes - I was omelette! Was really excited when I stumbled on your blog!

    Faceless sounds appealingly bizarre - a trashy 80's redo of Eyes Without a Face? Count me in on the insanity.

  13. Hey, omelette! Yeah, I'm remember you. Man, those rt journal thingys sure have changed since I was on there.

    It's exactly that... a trashy redo of a dignified classic.

    Anyway, thanks for stumbling. :)

  14. I know you said you don't watch the Jimmy Fallon musical performances, but when Of Montreal was on the other night, on the stage with the band were Solange Knowles and mimes drinking milk. And some guy in a Coil shirt was goofy dancing.

  15. "Some guy in a Coil shirt..."

    Now that's something I'd watch.

    A Coil shirt? Really? Weird, man.

    Anyway, I like Of Montreal's "Suffer for Fashion."

    Jeopardy! reruns make me sad. :(

  16. You would be talking about the Grapes of Death, with the toxic grapes. I think Lahaie has the scariest scene in the film, and she isn't even doing anything in that scene.

  17. Any chance of letting me know what the image on the right side of the header is from? Thanks very much!

    Love your blog, incredible content. You may enjoy mine:

  18. Sure, it's from Daisies (a.k.a. Sedmikrásky), a Czech film from 1966.

    Cool, a blog dedicated to the synthesizer-based music used in 80s erotica.